A High School Coaching Legend Passes
El Segundo head coach dies before 51st season
Dwight Eisenhower was president. No man had been in space.
It was 1960, the year 26-year-old John Stevenson coached his first team at El Segundo High School.
Presidents came and went, space travel became a rather regular and almost mundane event, and Stevenson kept on coaching at El Segundo, located in a Los Angeles suburban town for which the school was named.
Stevenson coached at El Segundo High for 50 seasons. He was beginning preparations for No. 51 when he died Jan. 11 of an apparent heart attack at age 76.
Stevenson coached the El Segundo Eagles to 30 league championships, and to seven section championships in the highly-competitive California Interscholastic Federation's Southern Section. El Segundo made 13 CIF championship-game appearances during his tenure, and made the playoffs in 42 of his 50 years there.
His 1,059 career victories are a California record.
Among his many players: Hall of Famer George Brett, and brother Ken Brett. Scott McGregor, winner of 138 MLB games, pitched for Stevenson at El Segundo and was a teammate of George Brett. Another of Stevenson's players was umpire Derryl Cousins.
Dave Demarest, who coached at nearby La Quinta High in Westminster to 753 victories, the third-most in California high school history, coached against Stevenson—and played against Stevenson's El Segundo teams, too.
"When I played at Palos Verdes High School, I chased a bunch of fly balls that his kids hit," Demarest said.
Demarest, who coached Bobby Crosby, Ian Kennedy, Gerald Laird and Ian Stewart at La Quinta, was inducted recently into the National Baseball Coaches of America Hall of Fame in Chicago. While there, somebody asked him where Demarest ranked among the top coaches in Southern California.
"Well, there's John Stevenson," Demarest said, "and then there's the rest of us."
Stevenson's wife, Gail, died in September of ovarian cancer. El Segundo athletic director Steve Shevlin said Gail's illness and passing did take an emotional toll on the coach, who is survived by son Eric, daughter-in-law Sue-Jean, and 2-year-old granddaughter Allie.
It's not like Stevenson had his glory days early on, then sat back and went with the flow. El Segundo was one of Southern California's top programs even in his later years. The Eagles won a CIF championship in 2006, and made it back to the CIF finals in 2007.
And it was never about him. When Stevenson became the first California high school coach to get to 1,000 wins, he told the Daily Breeze newspaper, "I'm glad it's over so we can now get on with the rest of the season."
John Stevenson was unforgettable.
"John was bigger than life, when I saw him as a player," Demarest said. "Then, when I coached against him … you know, you're always trying to figure the other guy out. Well, I swear never saw him give a sign, but I know he did. His kids knew what to do without him ever having to tell them."
We can tell you this—John Stevenson was a superb baseball coach.